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New York City's Trees Are Worth Cool Millions

No vacation days, no time off, and virtually no recognition for their labors. Day in and day out, their work means we breathe easier and feel happier. They are the unsung heros of the city that never sleeps.

Well, trees, today is your day.

A New York City park’s department census found that the ecological, economic, and social contributions of trees are valued at $151.2 million and counting. Bundled into that figure are a number of benefits: how trees reduce air pollution, trap rainwater, and even capture climate-warming carbon.

What’s more, trees protect against a growing public health concern; a cause of elderly mortality and childhood hospitalizations. Heat island effect.

In 2016, the ravages of excessive heat were clocked at “an average of 450 heat-related emergency department visits, 150 hospital admissions, 13 heat-stroke deaths,” reported the Mayor’s office. “As well as 115 deaths from natural causes exacerbated by extreme heat.”

To address the problem, Mayor De Blasio launched a $106 million program to curb the onslaught of extreme heat and safeguard against the warming effects of climate change. The lion’s share of that total — $82 million — is aimed at street tree planting, starting with the South Bronx.

 Source: Landsat Thermal Data, 08/18/09. NYCDOHMH

Source: Landsat Thermal Data, 08/18/09. NYCDOHMH

The Department of Mental Health & Hygiene reports that the average temperature in the South Bronx is 98.1 degrees, more than 5 degrees above the borough-wide average. And hospitalization rates for the elderly and young in the South Bronx far exceed NYC rates — and are only getting worse.

Trees are known to reduce air temperatures. By planting more street trees, increased canopy reflects the sun's rays and brings much-needed shade. In some cases shielding apartment buildings and homes, reducing temperatures and energy demands. A look at Central Park on the thermal image above hints at the cooling effects of trees

The open question is whether the arable space available for trees will significantly mitigate South Bronx’s heat island, and how long it will take. Tree cover depends on tree growth, which takes time. As climate warming increasing, the urgency might probably will too. 

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